Alzheimer's, Dementia & Mental Health
How Well You Detect Smell of Peanut
Butter Can Determine If You Have Alzheimer’s
Many tests to
confirm a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can be
time-consuming, costly or invasive -
See video below
University of Florida researcher Jennifer Stamps demonstrates the peanut
butter test. Photo courtesy of: UF Health file photo.
See Video Below
Oct. 10, 2013 – A simple test of
how well you smell peanut butter can determine if you have early stage
Alzheimer’s disease and distinguish it from other types of dementia. It
was discovered by an enterprising graduate student at the University of
Florida Brain Institute Center for Smell and Taste.
Jennifer Stamps and her colleagues
reported the findings of this small pilot study in the Journal of the
Stamps came up with the idea of
using peanut butter to test for smell sensitivity while she was working
with Dr. Kenneth Heilman, the James E. Rooks distinguished professor of
neurology and health psychology in the
UF College of Medicine’s department of neurology.
She noticed while shadowing in
Heilman’s clinic that patients were not tested for their sense of smell.
The ability to smell is associated with the first cranial nerve and is
often one of the first things to be affected in cognitive decline.
Stamps also had been working in the
laboratory of Linda Bartoshuk, the William P. Bushnell presidentially
endowed professor in the College of Dentistry’s department of community
dentistry and behavioral sciences and director of human research in the
Center for Smell and Taste.
“Dr. Heilman said, ‘If you can come
up with something quick and inexpensive, we can do it,’” Stamps said.
She thought of peanut butter
because, she said, it is a “pure odorant” that is only detected by the
olfactory nerve and is easy to access.
In the study, patients who were
coming to the clinic for testing also sat down with a clinician, 14
grams of peanut butter — which equals about one tablespoon — and a
The patient closed his or her eyes and mouth and blocked
The clinician opened the peanut butter container and
held the ruler next to the open nostril while the patient breathed
The clinician then moved the peanut butter up the ruler
one centimeter at a time during the patient’s exhale until the person
could detect an odor.
The distance was recorded and the procedure repeated on
the other nostril after a 90-second delay.
The clinicians running the test did
not know the patients’ diagnoses, which were not usually confirmed until
weeks after the initial clinical testing.
The scientists found that patients
in the early stages of Alzheimer’s disease had a dramatic difference in
detecting odor between the left and right nostril — the left nostril was
impaired and did not detect the smell until it was an average of 10
centimeters closer to the nose than the right nostril had made the
detection in patients with Alzheimer’s disease.
This was not the case in patients
with other kinds of dementia; instead, these patients had either no
differences in odor detection between nostrils or the right nostril was
worse at detecting odor than the left one.
Of the 24 patients tested who had
mild cognitive impairment, which sometimes signals Alzheimer’s disease
and sometimes turns out to be something else, about 10 patients showed a
left nostril impairment and 14 patients did not. The researchers said
more studies must be conducted to fully understand the implications.
“At the moment, we can use this
test to confirm diagnosis,” Stamps said. “But we plan to study patients
with mild cognitive impairment to see if this test might be used to
predict which patients are going to get Alzheimer’s disease.”
Stamps and Heilman point out that
this test could be used by clinics that don’t have access to the
personnel or equipment to run other, more elaborate tests required for a
specific diagnosis, which can lead to targeted treatment. At UF Health,
the peanut butter test will be one more tool to add to a full suite of
clinical tests for neurological function in patients with memory
One of the first places in the
brain to degenerate in people with Alzheimer’s disease is the front part
of the temporal lobe that evolved from the smell system, and this
portion of the brain is involved in forming new memories.
“We see people with all kinds of
memory disorders,” Heilman said. Many tests to confirm a diagnosis of
Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias can be time-consuming, costly or
invasive. “This can become an important part of the evaluation process.”
UF McKnight Brain Institute
University of Florida Health
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